El Shaddai – God Almighty

19 Jun

How do you respond when you hear the words, “That’s impossible!” Are you intimidated? Do you figure you might as well not try because you are doomed to failure? Or you are inspired? Can you think of 23 new ideas that haven’t been tried yet?

What if your impossible task involves managing finances with rising medical, education, and housing costs? What if your challenge is bringing peace to a house or an office filled with conflict? What if someone offers an empty platitude of “Trust God” while you’re facing chemotherapy?

If your impossible situation has left you disappointed with God, then you are in good company with the patriarch, Abraham. At the age of 99, his life was filled with disappointment, heartache, failure, and doubt. It’s in his time of great need that God introduces himself as El Shaddai, the almighty God for whom nothing is impossible.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me , and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” (Genesis 17:1-2)

To understand the significance of this name, we need to examine the meaning of the words and how they are used.

El comes from Elohim and means “strength” or “power.” Shaddai comes from two possible root words—one means “nourishes, supplies, or satisfies” while the other means “strength and stability.” El Shaddai means “The powerful strong God” or “The God who satisfies.” As El Shaddai, God is all-powerful and all-sufficient.

El Shaddai appears 7 times in the Old Testament, 6 of which are in Genesis and Exodus. 5 of the 6 examples in Genesis and Exodus are linked with God’s promises.

  • God and Abram (Genesis 17:1-8, 15-22; 18:1-14)
  • Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 28:1-4)
  • God and Jacob (Genesis 35:1-15)
  • Jacob and his sons (Genesis 43:14)
  • Jacob and Joseph (Genesis 48:1-6, 21-22)
  • God and Moses (Exodus 6:1-8)

Shaddai appears 41 times in the Old Testament, 31 of which are in the book of Job. The usage contrasts the weakness and frailty of men and women with the power of God (especially evident in Job). God uses times of crisis to give us hopeful revelations of who he is.

By weaving the meaning and the usage together, we discover that as El Shaddai, God is all-powerful and all-sufficient. His strength is best seen in our weakness. El Shaddai reveals God’s ability to keep his promises to his people.

By examining Genesis 12-18, we discover that God as El Shaddai, meets Abram right at his point of need.

At the age of 75, God called Abram and promised to make him a great nation (12:1‑3). When Abram’s faith wavered (15:1-2), God promised him untold descendants (15:3-5) and established his covenant with Abram (15:7-21).

11 years after the initial promise, Abram and Sarai grew tired of waiting and took matters into their own hands (16:1-3). Sarai, in particular, blamed God for her infertility. Running ahead of God, they created problems the world is still dealing with today.

24 years after the initial promise and 13 years after the birth of Ishmael, Abram undoubtedly is struggling with disappointment, discouragement, failure, and doubt. In the midst of his struggle, God reveals himself to Abram as El Shaddai, God Almighty (17:1-2). God reaffirms his promises (17:1-8, 15-21). God changes Abram’s and Sarai’s names to Abraham and Sarah as a preview of his covenant and promise (17:5, 15).

God changed Abram’s & Sarai’s name

Looks backwards

Looks forward
Abram – “Exalted father”

Abraham – “Father of a multitude”

Sarai – “My princess”

Sarah – “Princess”


God expands his promises to Abraham

I will

Confirm my covenant

Make you fruitful

Make nations of you

Multiply you greatly

Bring kings from you

Establish an everlasting covenant

Give you the land forever

Abraham listens to God’s promises and then falls on the floor laughing (17:17). He tries to bargain with God by asking God to bless Ishmael. God assures him that his plan will be fulfilled through Isaac (17:19). Sarah laughs just as hard when she hears the news (18:12). God responds to Sarah’s doubts by asking her, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (18:14).

Sarah recovers from her doubts and learns to trust God’s promises. Hebrews 11:11 explains, “By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.”

I take away three primary lessons from a study of God (El Shaddai) and his interaction with Abraham. One lesson is that God will keep his promises … in his time, not ours. God’s promises did not fail. However, it took 25 years before they were fulfilled. But God was faithful and blessed Abraham abundantly. God’s promises are secure because they are based on his power to keep them, not on my ability to believe them.

A second lesson I learned is that God’s plan is not hindered by our doubts or our failures. Abraham and Sarah both laughed at God’s promises. They thought they were too good to be true. Abraham and Sarah ran ahead of God and created difficult challenges and problems as a result of taking matters into their own hands and forcing God’s will. However, their doubts and failures did not derail God’s plan. God is still sovereignly in control and will accomplish his purpose.

I also learned that to fully enjoy God’s promises, we must walk with him and live a holy life. There is an order and sequence in Genesis 17:1-2. We love the idea that God (El Shaddai) is all-powerful and all-sufficient. We want his promises and we crave his blessings. That being said, we want to skip over the instructions in the middle, “walk before me and be blameless.” We want to live independently and gloss over holiness. But to fully enjoy God’s promises and blessings, we must walk with him and live a holy life.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 19, 2016. It is part of a series on The Names of God. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.


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